One of the standout automotive trends of 2014 was without a doubt the growing demand for bespoke customization. But what sorts of personal touches are clients demanding, and is there a point where even the most gifted automotive craftsmen have to draw the line?
The short answer is that laws of physics and road safety legislation permitting, there is no line to draw.
"Customers' wishes are put into practice in accordance to the motto: ‘The highest level is the one you define yourself'," explains Benjamin Titz, Press Spokesperson for BMW Individual Manufaktur, BMW's bespoke personalisation department. "There are nearly no limits to imagination. The car becomes a canvas for the customer's creativity."
A canvas on wheels
In terms of what customers choose to paint on that automotive canvas, it can range from relatively simple touches, such as a unique exterior paint color beyond the 100 BMW Individual Manufaktur already offers or adding hand-painted coach lines to integrating personalized monograms into the head restraints, door handles, instrument gauges, door sills and sun blinds.
Like all such companies, BMW prizes its clients' confidentiality so won't be drawn on the finer details and specifics. However, when asked to give some idea of what the department has been asked to make possible, Titz says that clients have requested that wooden interior trim come from trees in their own garden and that salmon skin be used as an alternative to leather as a contrasting feature. Clients have also specified rear bookshelves and extra reading lights in their cars, that the trunk as well as the interior and seats be lined in the finest leathers and have also requested that the car come with matching handkerchiefs and umbrellas. "The experts at the BMW Individual Manufaktur have the experience and expertise to fullfil virtually any wish," he explains.
But what about those clients that want something that's as truly individual on the outside as it is inside? Back in 2007, Ferrari set up a Special Projects Programme specifically for this purpose. If you're a valued client and the request won't detract from Ferrari's brand, the company will literally build you the car of your dreams, from the wheels, up.
The department is a top secret affair but this year it has confirmed it has competed two bespoke cars -- the F12 TRS and the F12 SP America -- both of which use the already quite special F12 Berlinetta as a starting point, and are each purported to have cost in excess of $3 million.
And why stop at the car itself? 'Q' by Aston Martin, the British sportscar company's bespoke service, has already been commissioned by one client to help him with the finer points of designing his home to give it an Aston Martin flavor. When clients enquire, the company is quick to highlight that it is just as happy to bring bespoke levels of luxury to the interior of a yacht as it is to an Aston Martin, presuming you're an existing customer, of course.
Special editions: a source of inspiration
With so many personalization options available, deciding on how to best proceed can seem daunting rather than exciting and that's why 2014 has also seen a host of very special editions and limited run vehicles coming to market from the world's premium automotive brands to help point customers in the right direction.
"At regular intervals, we create market-specific, special editions that focus on the preferences of a particular sales region and encompass a special range of options," says Titz. "These products serve as a benchmark and as inspiration for developers and customers alike. "
For instance, at the Paris motor show in October, Rolls-Royce unveiled the Phantom Metropolitan Collection -- a very limited run of cars featuring bespoke elements and design features inspired by the great world cities, including Paris, of course.
Meanwhile Aston Martin reimagined its 1970s sports limousine the Lagonda for 2014 and decided to offer it solely in the Middle East as a completely bespoke limited edition.
In developing special editions, BMW Individual Manufaktur has tried to be a little different, looking to form partnerships with other brands that also bring a new dimension of craftsmanship or exclusivity to an already rareified product. That's why past models have been built with Steinway & Sons -- complete with Steinway & Sons piano black veneering or with silver specialists Robbe & Berking. "The meeting of two worlds sparks a creative atmosphere in which the boundaries of exclusivity are pushed further and new premium solutions are conceived and implemented in the most superlative way possible," says Titz.